Paths of Doom
Varian, Nancy Virginia
dal Lago, Alberto
1931567719 / 9781931567718
125 pages |
|Number of Endings:||
|User Summary:||A young prince has a vision of his father's death in a pirate raid, and he must find a magical sword to avert the prophecy.|
I'm sure I've read a fair percentage of Nancy Varian's Dragonlance fiction, though I honestly can't remember a single detail of her novel, and I have only scattered memories of her short fiction. I should probably have taken this as a bad sign, but I was still hopeful that this second volume would have managed to outshine the previous adventure in originality and readability. Unfortunately, that did not prove to be the case....
Once again, we are in familiar territory -- a quest for a magic artifact in a strange and dangerous location; there's even gratuitous bad poetry courtesy of an old crone to get things rolling. All of this could have been at home in an Endless Quest adventure. The problem, though, is that the familiar formula is never put to particularly engaging use.
As with the previous adventure, the book lacks an appealing protagonist. Prince Delvin is generically young, strong and loyal, and the illustrations portray him as the lead singer of an eighties metal band. The text of the book gives him no real personality, and the choices do little to allow the reader to develop his character in any particular direction. The reader never feels that they are Delvin, nor do they have much reason to care what happens to him or his family.
Even though the plot barely registers and the hero is a cipher, the book could have saved itself through interesting game design. Unfortunately, that is completely missing here. It is somewhat difficult to find the one true ending, but that is not due to clever puzzles or challenging choices -- it's mainly because the adventure is a maze of random events. There is little or no logic to most decisions, and there are many different ways (some of them featuring highly jarring transitions) to reach the book's negative endings. With so many similar and repeating fates, I quickly found it difficult to remember (or care) where I had previously been and what I had previously done. I eventually found my way through by drawing a map of the book's sections, and for all the book's longwindedness, it manages to deliver a final insult in the form of an astonishingly rushed and unsatisfying conclusion.
This is just about the worst that the gamebook form has to offer -- an unoriginal and uninteresting story made exponentially more tedious through the addition of interactivity that forces the reader to experience it over and over with minor, meaningless variations. Don't waste your time.
The Paths of Doom series really needed a stronger start than its first two volumes could offer it. It quickly plummets from "passable" to "awful," and I can't imagine any new readers being won over to gamebooks by these adventures. I certainly don't envision veterans having much fun here when it's so much more enjoyable to revel in nostalgia and read real Endless Quest books. Still, I haven't given up hope. The series has its heart in the right place; if somebody can just put the pieces together in a more satisfying way, this could still produce something worth reading. My fingers are crossed for the next batch....
Instead of the fantasy Egypt setting used in the last book, this book returns to a genre that has already been used way too often in gamebooks: Dungeons and Dragons-style fantasy. Written by a person who, as far as I can tell, has no previous experience with interactive fiction, this proves to be disappointing both as a story and a game.
The writing is painstakingly dull, being more worthy of a school-child than of a professional author. While none of the text sections drags on for too many pages, just reading through any of them could prove a good cure for insomnia. As if this weren't enough, the writing is often awkward and the book seems to have been rushed to the printer without so much as a look on the part of an editor. Grammar and spelling mistakes are very frequent throughout the text, and there's even one point where the 'turn to' instructions are reversed, so when making one choice you're instead choosing its opposite. The book is so poorly edited I couldn't resist making some quotations. Here's one from page 82: "He wrung water from his hair, suddenly glad he hadn't disappearing (sic.) in his scaly transformation." Another one, from the very first text section: "Certainly no one would think he was going to the one place the people of his father's hold when only went (sic.) in desperation..." You get the idea.
The writing alone is bad enough, but the story adds insult to injury. Despite the fact that any path to the only successful ending feels rather long, the author somehow managed to write a highly incoherent story where absolutely nothing seems to happen... nothing exciting, at least. I still wonder, just to cite one example, what was the point of that magic trip to the player character's future life – it contributes nothing useful and only adds to the tediousness of the book.
There is no real point to the gameplay, either. Although the path to victory is quite narrow, finding it is not nearly as interesting as in other gamebooks. The first stages of the book will consist of plodding through way too many dead-end paths, since the path to victory is hidden among them. There was no real strategy in finding it that I could identify; the author seemed to think hiding it like a needle in a haystack and having the player read through a multitude of overly-long paths that often branch out and mostly lead to the same bad endings over, and over, and over again was somehow supposed to be fun. You'll almost surely be tired and frustrated by the time you stumble on the 'true path' and even then you'll find it to be as boring and pointless as the rest of the book (and filled with choices which ask you to act nobly and trust strangers blindly, in the all-too-clichéd fashion of many earlier interactive books). I'm not usually one to leave books unfinished, but after reaching the successful conclusion (which took me several tries) I left the book alone for good, despite the fact that there were many paths I had not traveled down. Sincerely, I couldn't care less for them.
I don't mean to offend anyone with this review, but whoever wrote this book needs to grow both as a fiction writer and as a game designer in order to produce something really worthwhile. Careful editing also wouldn't hurt (it's a must, in fact, considering the state of this published product). While the idea of new Endless Quest-style books being published in 2006 seems exciting enough, this completely fails to live up to the standards set by that classic series (or by the first PoD book, Sete-Ka's Dream Quest, for instance).
If you're looking for something worthwhile to spend your money on, I would suggest instead Sete-Ka's Dream Quest, or difficult books in the Endless Quest series like Vision of Doom and The Fireseed (this last one, by the way, handles the tropical island setting much better than The Lost Sword). If you're not averse to weird science fantasy, I also recommend the Hark series by R. L. Stine, which manages to combine a fair dose of strategy and a good feel for the absurd in a more effective way than this book achieves.
|Special Thanks:||Thanks to Margaret Weis Productions for the review copy and front cover image; thanks to Ken G. for the back cover scan.|
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